I first heard that my writing would be classified as a “hobby” months ago and the very idea has been eating away at me since. The classification was revealed by the tax instructor at a writers’ seminar. “If you don’t make a specific amount of monies with your writings or drawings or sculptures or plays, you are considered a “hobbyist” by the Federal government.”
The list of unacknowledged and/or unappreciated artists and writers that would have fallen into the “hobby” column is well known. Vincent Van Gogh never sold a painting, John Kennedy Toole’s “Confederacy of Dunces” wasn’t published until twelve years after his death. Kafka, Thoreau, Poe, Gauguin, and Keats are all widely read or viewed and recognizable by surname only. The total lack of women artists and writers (or for that matter, people of color) from any lists of underappreciated talent is indicative of the second-class citizenship label that doesn’t acknowledge any number of artists that don’t look like those in power.
I totally believe in hobbies. People garden or cook, some collect stamps or play three chord folk songs on a guitar (guilty).
But the difference to me is that a hobby relaxes you, helps you unwind after a tough day.
More than twenty years ago, I walked away from an interesting – fascinating, actually – career in the film industry. I spent my days at a major studio restoring films for posterity. I was rewarded financially, but when the paycheck came around, the haunting memory of Peggy Lee singing “Is That All There Is” put me in a mental and emotional quandary. For more than those twenty years working in the industry I had been writing, sometimes getting up at five in the morning to write before work, sometimes staying up into the wee hours. When I finally acknowledged that writing was my life, the one thing that gave my life meaning, I made the decision that would change my life.
It was the easiest AND hardest decision I ever made. What was I giving up? Prestige in a glamourous industry. I had traveled to film festivals throughout the United States and created and moderated expert panels in my field in the Far East. Travel, expense accounts, a sports car, custom power suits, and famous clients all went by the wayside and rather than meetings and screenings, and award ceremonies, I now spend my days alone at my computer with two dogs at my feet.
My routine starts at nine o’clock every weekday and up until a few months ago, I was diligent about writing or researching or submitting my work. I am happiest when I’m writing. So why the stumbling block?
That damned word – “hobby.”
All I know is that restless nights, depressive mood swings, and frustration aren’t part of the hobby equation. Early on, I hesitated calling myself a writer because I wasn’t “published.” Now, after years of seeing my work in print in books, newspapers, and magazines and seeing my words come to life numerous times on the stage, I don’t hesitate to say “I am a writer.”
But now there’s this other stigma or stumbling block or hiccup in the process; is monetary success the measure of one’s worth? In my heart, I know it’s not and yet everyone (or at least it seems like everyone) measures success in dollars. Years ago, entertainer Dinah Shore said something that stuck with me. “God doesn’t think too much of money. Look who he’s given it to!” But it’s clearly a measure of one’s success.
Do I wish I had money? Sure, but I’d probably give most of it away. I don’t need two homes or two cars. Would I travel more? Probably, but always with a pen and paper in my pocket.
I write and submit and publish. I promote my plays and print my thoughts online. (Voila! My 3 Cents.)
Happy? Comes and goes. Fulfilled? Hmmm, frustration is more prevalent. Persistent? Definitely.
I have several quotes printed in such a way that I can expose only one at a time on my desk. One I’ve had for years:
“Press on. Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent… Education alone will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.” [Calvin Coolidge]
Another: “I would rather live in a cave than live a life of perpetual inconsequence.” [from the movie, Dangerous Beauty]
And finally, the quote from Iris Murdoch that most often appears:
“I was thinking of nothing at all and then I was thinking of everything in the world.”
I have a set of colored pencils and a sketch pad on hand to pass time pleasantly. Writing is not my hobby, it’s my passion. And you can take that to the bank.